I am not your Negro11 Dec 2016
It wasn’t the poetic words of Baldwin, the masterful narration by Jackson or the brilliant film-making and editing choices made by Raoul Peck that got to me in I am not your Negro. It was one particular sequence, near the end, where in close proximity to one another we see images of lynchings, and then images of young slave children from antebellum America, and then images of modern day black Americans set to swelling music. This sequence comes after 80 minutes of footage, words, music and description of Baldwin’s view of the world and the civil rights movement. And, for me, it completely collapsed any academic or viewing distance I had as a viewer.
I’ve spent many hours watching YouTube clips of Baldwin at the Cambridge debate or on the Dick Cavett show, or reading his novels and criticism, so some of this material was familiar to me. But much of this film, his letters to his agent, his responses to the death of Medger Evers, Malcom X and Martin Luther King, and others were new to me. One of the biggest triumphs is how well all this source material is constructed into an argument. This is no Ken Burns documentary. There is a strong, and clear perspective at its core. It is resolute in its purpose. And as a result, we get a new artifact from Baldwin, posthumously, that can be added to his oeuvre, and stand next to some of his best work.
Samuel Jackson, after doing much damage to the image of the black man in mainstream film, could do well to spend his remaining time in Hollywood working on projects like this. Where his talents aren’t filtered directly into an angry character, but instead he can become someone akin to Harry Belafonte or even Sidney Poitier. It would, in my opinion, be a great way to cash in all the capital he has built as a star in his career.